Vessel and Shore-based Research

Vessel-based Research

Presently HMMC's vessel-based research focuses on humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) photo-identification, biopsy and acoustic recording of humpback song. We are adding a photogrammetry effort to size animals in addition to our current data collection

Recently, HMMC participated in SPLASH, which stands for Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks, is an unprecedented international study that spanned the North Pacific. Researchers on all the main Hawaiian Islands, as well as the US West Coast, Japan, Mexico, Central America, the Philippines, Russia and Canada simultaneously collected humpback whale data in each area. In 2004, with the help of our dedicated volunteers, HMMC conducted 29 SPLASH surveys off the Big Island, encountering approximately 170 groups with more than 350 whales. We photographed approximately 150 different flukes of individual whales, collected 126 tissue samples and made two recordings of humpback whale song. In 2005 we conducted 42 surveys, photographed approximately 300 different flukes of individual whales, collected 140 tissue samples and made nine recordings of humpback whale song. In 2006, we have conducted over 35 SPLASH surveys, photographed over 300 different flukes and collected over 200 tissue and sloughed skin samples. In addition, we collected data from species including bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris), spotted dolphins (S. attenuata) and melon-headed whales (Peponocephala electra). HMMC's participation in SPLASH has been in collaboration with scientists at the NOAA Fisheries, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, the National Marine Mammal Laboratory and the State of Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), who generously allowed us to work under their scientific research permits.

Shore-based Research

HMMC conducts shore-based research of humpback whales from the Old Ruins site on the Kohala Coast. The goal of these scan sessions is to document the presence and relative position of all marine mammals, vessels and aircraft, contributing to a long-term database on the relative distribution, behavior and seasonal presence of humpback whales off the Kohala Coast. Each year since 2004, with the help of our volunteers, we have conducted 20 scans during February and March. We are still in the process of analyzing the resulting data, which we hope to incorporate into a manuscript on trends in the relative distribution and abundance of humpback whales in Kawaihae Bay since 1988.  To learn more about our shore-based efforts, read the newsletters we’ve posted as well as our report (36 pages, 776 KB) to the Department of Land and Natural Resources, State of Hawai‘i and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary on trends in shore-based whale observations 1988-2003.
In December 2005 at the Sixteenth Biennial Conference of the Society for Marine Mammalogy in San Diego, we presented a poster titled: Using compass and reticle binoculars to measure animal position: An evaluation and comparison to theodolite data, which is based on data from our shore station work. Most recently, we published a paper on this topic in Marine Mammal Science.

Frankel, A. S., S. Yin, and M.  A. Hoffhines.  2009.  Alternative methods for determining the altitude of theodolite observation stations. Marine Mammal Science 25(1) 214-220.